Friday, February 10, 2018 (OS: February 23): Clean Friday; Hieromartyr Charalampus, Bishop of Magnesia in Thessaly, and the Martyrs Porphyrius, Baptus and 3 Women Martyrs († 202); New Hieromartyrs Priests Peter and Valerian († 1930); Virgin-martyrs Ennatha and Valentina and Martyr Paul of Palestine († 308); Venerable Prochorus of the Kiev Caves († 1107); Holy Hierarchs of Novgorod: Joachim, Luke, Germanus, Arcadius, Gregory, Martyrius, Anthony, Basil, and Symeon; Venerable Longinus of Koryazhemka († 1540); Holy Right-Believing Great Princess Anna of Novgorod († 1056); “Fiery Appearance” Icon of the Mother of God.
Human beings are in a sad muddle. If only, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, the line between good and evil was drawn somewhere else than through the human heart. Life in a fallen world would easier–or at least simpler he says–“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”
But it isn’t this way.
Everything in this life is a mix of “wheat and weeds” (Matthew 13:24-30). I do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons.
This moral confusion extends as well to the created world. The creation, St Paul says, is subject “to futility” because of our sinfulness. And so it “groans and labors with birth pangs” in anticipation of our final redemption (Romans 8:18-25).
We see this all laid out for us in today’s reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The natural social hierarchy has been upended. Men of experience and power “make boys their princes” and are “ruled over” by infants. Now “the youth” are “insolent to the elder[ly],” and “the base fellow to the honorable.”
The natural human impulse to friendship has likewise been corrupted. People “oppress one another, every man his fellow and every man his neighbor.” We have lost the communion with each other that was God’s gift to us in the beginning. And so strife reigns.
And we suffer poverty. The land itself, as we read in Genesis, has lost its natural fecundity. It still produces food. But now we must contest with the ground our sinfulness has cursed; “in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you. … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.”
In our desperation and loneliness, our hunger and our illness we seek out anyone we can find to lead us. Anyone, that is, but God.
But, like I said a moment ago, though fallen the world is not divided into discrete units of good and evil. Though extensive, the corruption of sin is not–and can never be–absolute.
“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth.” Even if I often have trouble seeing it, all of creation, as Solomon reminds us, reveals the wisdom and the knowledge of God.
Like taking food from the earth, acquiring “wisdom and discretion” requires effort, even a battle. But if we hold on to them we are able to “walk … securely and … not stumble.” Yes, we will be tired but when we sit to rest we “will not be afraid” and our “sleep will be sweet” even when we see the “panic” and “the ruin of the wicked” around us.
As we grow in our confidence and trust in God fear retreats and our communion with our neighbor grows. Even if at times it will require a real sacrifice on our part, we will find joy in taking Solomon’s advice that we “not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
What good are we asked to do?
Do not plan evil against your neighbor who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm. Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.
Even in though the world is fallen, if we pursue wisdom we will find peace.